06 November 2012 ~ 4 Comments

A Moment of Truth

I boarded the nearly empty Nanbu line at the Kawasaki station terminal and grabbed a seat, whipped out my iPad and updated my Facebook Fan Page for Hi! My Name is Loco… I noticed the car filling up as the departure time neared…

See, the thing is, you (and by “you” I mean “I”) can’t help but think about what’s going on around me. I endeavor not to let it monopolize my attention, though, by keeping distractions on hand at all times. But, still, no matter what, I have to acknowledge it and file it away, in as detached a manner as possible (on a good day.)

This was one of those good days.

I scanned the car as the the departure time arrived and noticed, predictably, that the only empty seat was, alas, the one beside me. No one was standing as of yet.

Moment of truth…or, in this case, mounting truth (after all, at this point, it was the last seat available and had been weighed and found wanting by a number of passengers already). A man boards — the first to have to outright choose to stand instead of take the seat — and, after scraping his eyes over me, did just that…a half a car away.

Mind you, I’m taking note of this as inconspicuously as possible. If they’re aware that their behavior is being scrutinized by me then their counter-surveillance skills parallel my own. And I would find that hard to believe — for I’ve been honing mine for damn near 9 years now — but not impossible.

The next to board through the nearest door was a woman, clearly eager and expecting to sit, spots the seat beside me and heads straight for it. Then, again, sadly and predictably, she almost stumbles in her effort to curtail her forward momentum.

I almost look up from my iPad just to give her enough eye-contact to let her know I’m well aware that I (or at least whatever she saw when she looked at me) am the reason for her sudden hesitation. I used to think I could put the person at ease if they were able to see my eyes and the harmless lack of ill-intent in them. But, that had backfired so many times I began to wonder if my eyes no longer lacked ill-intentions. That, in fact, there was something in my eyes that conveyed the message “Never Mind the Dog, Beware of Owner!” with a hand on the trigger of a smoking gun. Later, I would take to eying them with the intention of invoking guilt, penalizing them for the slight, whatever provoked it. If I were ever successful at inspiring guilt the Creator has seen fit not to make me privy to this accomplishment.

So, I’ve given up even trying. I’ve accepted this as the status quo.

She really wanted to sit down, though. She walked over to the nearby door leading to the next car and peered through it determined to find a free seat. Apparently gaijin were in short supply on this train and all those seats were taken, as well. She turned back to the free seat beside me and I felt her eyes on me, again, doing some serious thinking now. I could almost smell the stench of her churning thoughts, fallout from the internal battle with whatever was prompting her fear.

I used to be disgusted by such displays, used to try to imagine what must be going through their minds. I avoid such inclinations now as often as I can. I know they are to no avail and little good can come of the practice. However, annoyingly, I felt this untoward urge to cut a glare at her, to scare her off, for her prolonged internal battle with herself was quickly becoming spectacle…others in the vicinity, previously content to pretend not to be aware of her predicament, were beginning to look up from their iPhones, Manga, and otherwise general malaise to observe her handling of this dilemma…one they all might find themselves in someday…

Why couldn’t she just leave bad enough alone?

I fought this urge to the point of distraction.

Even when she, surprisingly, came to a stop and stood in front of the seat, I didn’t give her a much deserved look. I just let it go…as much as something like this can be let go, as much as I ever let ugliness of this nature go. That is to say, I had every attention of filing it away in my offshore emotional server complex, corraled only in time of need (like when writing) but wound up performing the equivalent of emailing it to myself, allowing it to loiter along with quite a bit of other nonsense in that emotional cyberspace I can access (and unfortunately can access me) at a moment’s notice.

Even as I tried to respond to a reader who’d given me a shout out on my book page, I could feel her eyes trained on me. When I scrolled down the page, I could see the reflection of her shadowy face gazing at me…

Fuck it!

I lifted my head and caught her eyes, transfixed…on the iPad?

I quickly looked away before she noticed and then back down to my lap, wondering what could be holding her attention so fixedly.

My first thought was she probably could read English and was surprised at the book’s title…that thought lasted until I heard her say, “Sumimasen…” as she took the seat beside me.

Now, helplessly, I glanced over at her, and she kinda half-smiled / nod-bowed. I was too surprised to react.

Rarely has any Japanese person who has gone as far as to do the little iwakan dance in front of the empty seat been overcome by a desire to actually take it. WTF! I felt an intense desire to know why, like we’d been having a conversation, she and I — hell, everyone in the vicinity and I — and suddenly, mid-convo, she just up and changed the subject…apropos of nothing and without any indication that she was partial to explaining why. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one engaged enough to want an explanation, either; a bit of conjecture somewhat confirmed by several sets of stupefied eyes that were upon her.

I looked back at the page, no longer suspecting English ability on her part…still, nothing jumped off the page.

I sat there stumped.

I was about to chalk it up to yet another in a long series of inexplicable encounters I’ve had over the years when I noticed her peeking at my iPad again, semi-surreptitiously. I followed her peripheral line of sight as well as I could and I realized it was aimed at the banner, where it reads in her native tongue: 世界平和 (world peace) こころの色はみんな同じ (Everybody’s heart is the same color) and 世界をひとつに(One World)

I had used some of the art my kids at work had painted a couple of years ago for the banner…(You can see more of their extraordinary work here)

There was no way to confirm, short of asking her (which I didn’t…punked out) if the artwork and its message had anything to do with her having decided to take the seat; nor could I draw any conclusions of what the implications of her response might be. Nevertheless I felt a sense of…I dunno…let’s just say something closing in on truth.

It was enough to inspire me to allow her a smile.

I turned her way and gave it to her.


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4 Responses to “A Moment of Truth”

  1. Osaka_101 7 November 2012 at 12:40 am Permalink

    Hi mister Loco 😉
    I like to read your “adventure”. I’m new in Japan and this never happened to me. Yes, I’m white, and maybe I don’t pay that attention, even for the mandatory empty-seat experience.
    My question may be silly but … why don’t you try to know more ? Why don’t you speak with her ? (you didn’t if I understood everything ?! (my English isn’t the best in the world, sorry)).

    • Locohama 7 November 2012 at 1:02 am Permalink

      Thanks for the shout, Osaka
      I won’t say your skin color is a factor in why you have yet to experience this but it may be who knows…
      I punked out of asking her as I said. I may appear to be brazen but believe it or not I’m really a shy guy…by American standards anyway…but in general, trust me, I ask questions incessantly of the Japanese people I do know. And I post the answers here quite often. Read on, peep the archives of my adventure. You’re sure to find that my investigation is thorough, consistent and ongoing. You might want to also (shameless self promotion ahead) check out my book on the subject as well. (see sidebar) It’s chock full of adventures where queries were made and responded to (-:

  2. Schteve McClaren 17 November 2012 at 2:03 am Permalink

    Didn’t it irk you that it was seemingly purely because of the banner on your fb page that she decided to sit next to you, that she acted only because she had evidence that you were a nice person? You know she wouldn’t have given you the benefit of the doubt if you were just sitting reading a book or something. Is that what is required for foreigners to be treated normally in Japan? Do I need to walk around with a charity donation receipt glued to my forehead or something to show that I’m a normal, compassionate, unscary human being? I find it hard to take away a good feeling from your story. She assessed you, you passed her test, she sat next to you. On one level it’s heartwarming that she decided to go through with it, and on another level she’s still ultimately treating you like a pariah. If you were Japanese, she wouldn’t have thought twice about taking the seat.

    I dunno, is there something wrong with my thinking/reasoning?

    • Locohama 17 November 2012 at 2:28 am Permalink

      Nothing at all…and THANK YOU for getting the point of this little anecdote. Mabe the title was misleading and that is totally my fault. Though I do think the theme of this post is about the truth as it pertains to the effect stigmatization has on among after a long period of time; in this case,pond scum low expectations of the people here, and the way that magnifies any act of destigmatization to the Nth degree. Where the act of sitting or even standing comfortably near me, due to the curve i grade thepeople of the fair city on, raises the doer to a level of damn near humanitarian, über-nihonjin.
      This tale could have taken the name of a sentence I set aside in the middle of the post that reads: “So, I’ve given up even trying. I’ve accepted this as the status quo.”
      Was I irked? Yes.
      Why did I smile? a bit of irony. Maybe it was because I was glad that though my eyes are incapable of inspiring guilt, this banner, written in her own language, may have just done the trick. Maybe I should get buttons, caps and tshirts made (-;
      Thanks for the shout to!

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